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Robots to teach refugee children German

December 23, 2015

Combining artificial intelligence and language acquisition skills, robots will soon teach refugee children the German language. Scientists are focusing on children to develop the technology's effectiveness.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/CITEC/Universität Bielefeld

This year witnessed Europe struggle to cope with the largest influx of asylum-seeking migrants from war-torn countries since the end of World War II, prompting concerns from authorities on how to integrate new residents.

In Germany, understanding the language is crucial to gaining meaningful employment or participating in the education system.

Researchers at the University of Bielefeld are approaching one of the most challenging issues to arise from the wave of migration with an innovative solution: robots.

Using the programmable robot "Nao," sporting cameras and microphones, researchers want to experiment with its ability to convey simple language skills to refugee children, especially those between the ages of 4 and 5.

"Teaching every child a second language individually is something kindergartens usually can't cope with. That's where robots can offer additional assistance," said Stefan Kopp, an artificial intelligence expert at Bielefeld University, where he leads the cognitive systems and social interactions research group.

Frankreich Roboter Nao
With enough code, you can teach "Nao" to do nearly anythingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Varoquier

"Nao" - a cute robot manufactured in the appearance of a child - would also be accompanied by a tablet to assist the child in learning German with supporting material, such as illustrations.

"We program the robot so that it can interact with the child, so that the child is as well supported as possible," said Kirsten Bergmann from the Bielefeld research group.

The project is expected to run for some three years as scientists test the robots' ability to effectively teach the notoriously difficult language to newcomers, with the first batch being dispatched to classrooms within 18 months.

Dancing Drones

ls/jil (dpa, KNA)